Psychology students spend years studying their field in order to be able to provide clinical services to clients. The majority of students who pursue degrees in psychology do so because they want to make a difference in the lives of others. Perhaps they personally experienced traumas, abuses, or other types of significant mental health challenges and have benefited from therapy. Maybe they lived with a family member who experienced psychological disturbances and want to be able to help other families cope with mental illness in a healthy and constructive way. Regardless of what motivates students to pursue psychology degrees, the ultimate goal of students should be to deliver responsible therapy services and to advocate for the benefits of treatment. So why do many students perpetuate the stigma that prevents so many people from seeking help?
Malena Digiuni of Canterbury Christ Church University in England was curious to find out if psychology students were part of the problem when it comes to psychological stigma, and if so, whether cultural differences affected their attitudes. She interviewed more than 450 students pursuing psychology degrees and asked them about their attitudes toward seeking personal therapy and the social stigma surrounding treatment. The participants included students from the United States, England, and Argentina. “The results revealed significant cross-national differences, with Argentinean students showing the lowest levels of perceived social stigma for receiving therapy, followed by English and Americans,” Digiuni said.
In sum, it appeared that culture affected perceptions of therapy quite dramatically. The students from Argentina were most accepting of personal treatment, while the Americans were the least likely to receive treatment for themselves. This finding is troubling because Digiuni believes that therapy could not only help many students but also provide clinical benefits. Digiuni believes that students who are educated about the relationship between stigma and help seeking may be better prepared to address these issues with future clientele.
Digiuni, M., Jones, F. W., Camic, P. M. (2012). Perceived social stigma and attitudes towards seeking therapy in training: a cross-national study. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028784
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